I’m just back from four nights at the oceanfront San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. This 525-room highrise hotel on Condado Beach hosted me and my fellow Vacation Gals for a girlfriend getaway, during which we explored a bit of Puerto Rico in our short stay on the island (don’t miss the nighttime bioluminescent bay kayaking tour in Fajardo!). But we also had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the resort’s amenities and services. Here’s a short review of just a few things I really liked about the San Juan Marriott.
The location. The San Juan Marriott is just five miles from the airport, which means our vacation started quickly. (Long airport transfers bring me down.) It’s also between Old San Juan (about a 15-minute taxi ride, depending on traffic, which costs about $18) and the resorts in Isla Verde, such as El San Juan Hotel & Casino, which has quite the nightlife scene (but so does the Marriott, see below).
The beds. Dare I say it, but I think the pillows were perfect — not too puffy and tall (the worst) and not too soft and flimsy. Just right, which is rare in hotel pillows. Same goes for the mattress: not too firm and not too soft (I sound like Goldilocks). Top-notch sheets and comforters also made sleep come very easily each night. Thumbs up to the 2007/08 hotel-wide guestroom renovation that introduced Marriott’s signature “Revive” bedding.
The oceanfront rooms. I loved waking up to the view of the Atlantic Ocean, just feet away from my 11th-floor ocean-facing room. Rooms in the “tower” with these views are pricier, but there are also rooms that have balconies overlooking the lush pool area with partial ocean views.
The pool area. I think the giant toddler pool (with zero-depth entry and water fountains) plus the water slide into a deeper area make this pool hugely inviting to families. But you can also find nooks and crannies where adults can park chaise lounges under looming palm trees to create a quiet oasis for reading and lounging. A swim-up bar appeals to grown-ups, too.
The food. One main restaurant, La Vista, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had our morning meals at the penthouse Executive Lounge, which offers included continental breakfast to Platinum Marriott Rewards guests or anyone who wants to pay $25 per person, per night. Our lunches were outdoors at the poolside grill (I recommend the quesadillas, not the turkey wrap). We did sit down for one late-night dinner at La Vista. The buffet is vast with all sorts of pasta, salad, seafood and meat entrees, plus a dessert table. Or you can order off the menu a la carte. I tried two Puerto Rican specialties Sancocho, a hearty stew-like soup, and Pionono, plantain stuffed with ground meat, both of which I though were great.
The candlelit Ristorante Tuscany has a more upscale vibe, though staff told me children were welcome here — the kitchen can make anything off the kid’s menu from La Vista and bring it next door to Tuscany. Here, I recommend the antipasto buffet if it’s offered, as well as the pear and gorgonzola salad with fiocchi pasta (it’s a small serving, so don’t even think about sharing).
The lobby bar scene. We arrived at about 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night and the lobby bar was already hopping. Here, you’ll find live music many nights of the week and loads of guests and locals on a small dance floor. Thursday is ladies’ night with $1 drinks – what a steal! Sunday afternoons it’s a throwback in time, when the area’s older folks come dressed to the nines (think spats and fedoras) to dance to big-band music. I’m sorry we left on Sunday morning and missed the scene!
The spa. The spa and fitness center are tucked in a basement level, so it has a bit of a cramped feeling. The women’s locker room is small and there are just four treatment rooms, so don’t expect a luxury experience here. That said, the front-desk staff was delightfully friendly and accommodating, and I had an incredible “combination” massage from a talented therapist, which included both deep-tissue work and relaxing Swedish strokes.
Of course, every resort comes with its inconveniences. Frankly, I didn’t care for the bitter coffee (in my room and in the Executive Lounge), so I was happy that a Starbucks was right across the street. And the resort’s location on Condado Beach doesn’t allow for long walks along a long strip of white sand. Rocks and an elevated sidewalk a few hundred yards in either direction of the San Juan Marriott prevent passing, so my morning walk consisted of strolling west down the beach for about 5 minutes with shoes in hand, crossing over to walk a bit further down busy Ashford Avenue, and looping back to the hotel (after stopping at Starbucks).
Another drawback: Wireless costs $14.95 per day (or 12 percent resort fee, which comes with other extras). I appreciate hotel stays where my wireless is absolutely free, or the cost is just folded into the nightly room rate.
That said, for a short-stay girlfriend getaway, romantic escape or easy trip to the Caribbean with the kids, the San Juan Marriott absolutely fits the bill. We had great service from front-desk staff, the concierges and the waitstaff (especially at Tuscany and La Isla Beach Bar & Grill). If you’re into blackjack or slots, the 12,700-foot casino is conveniently located right off the lobby. And the bartenders aren’t skimpy when it comes to the fresh mint in the signature mojitos!
Photos: Top, courtesy San Juan Marriott; bottom, Kara Williams.